Japanese Language Brain

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author photoThis post has a Japanese version below. 
Feel free to practice by reading it first!

There is something fascinating about the way the Japanese-language-speaking brain works. It has to do with the way that the brain processes certain sounds, like insect noises. As it turns out, most humans process insect noises using the right brain, but Japanese (and Polynesian) speakers process insect noises in the left brain. Even speakers of Korean (a language with very similar grammar to Japanese) exhibit the same pattern as Westerners. It’s not genetic, but a matter of which language is learned first as a child.

Intriguing, right? Check this out: the side of the brain the Japanese use to process sound–the left side–is also the dominant language hemisphere of the brain. This could explain why there are so many 擬態語 (ぎたいご: mimetic words) in Japanese, like the sound of gentle rain (しとしと), or the sound of the wind (ビュービュー).

So while the rest of us process insect sounds together with noise sounds (in the music sphere, or right brain), the Japanese language brain perceives insect sound in the language sphere (left brain). The Japanese language brain actually processes insect noise as voices!

This research was conducted by Prof. Tsunoda, who further demonstrated that although both Japanese and Westerners process noise such as machinery in the right brain and language sounds in the left brain, Japanese hear vowel sounds, crying, laughing, sighing, insects, animals, waves, wind, rain, and running water all in the left brain, while westerners hear these sounds in the right brain.

And note further: if the Japanese language brain hears a western instrument, that sound will be processed in the right hemisphere (like a Westerner), while Japanese instruments such as the 三味線 (しゃみせん: shamisen) or 尺八 (しゃくはち: shakuhachi) are processed in the left brain.

Update: commenters are pointing out that this research is not reliable, so make sure to check the discussion below.


Japanese version: (you can study the words from this post on Skritter by clicking here if your Skritter language is set to Japanese).


日本語を話す脳の働きについては魅力的な情報があります。 それは、昆虫が発するような特定の音を脳が処理する方法に関係します。言い換えれば、ほとんどの人間は、昆虫の物音を右脳で処理しますが、日本人(とポリネシア人)の話し手は、昆虫の音を左脳で処理します。日本語の文法によくにている言語の韓国語の話し手でさえ、西洋人の脳と同じパターンを示します。遺伝的なことではなく、むしろ子供の頃に最初に覚えた言語によるようです。

面白いですね!それだけではなく、日本人が音の処理に使う左脳の部分は人間の脳の言語野です。 もしかしたら、それは日本語に多数の擬態語がある理由なのかもしれません。



また、日本語を母語とする脳は西洋の楽器を聞けば、その音を西洋人のように右脳で処理します。 一方、和製楽器だったら左脳で処理されます。

Update: commenters are pointing out that this research is not reliable, so make sure to check the discussion below.

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